SCHOOLS | February 28, 2019
Englewood native and Lindblom High School alumnus, Shohn Williams, grew up with “hoop dreams” and always saw himself playing for the NBA, he said.
He trained often, and aggressively, as a teenager, he said.
“I’d run from 70th and Hermitage to 87th and Damen with a book bag full of bricks in it. I’d even run up hills and at the top, I would do 20 pushups and repeat.”
In his senior year, Williams averaged about 25 points a game. In 1999 he was named IHSA’s State Slam Dunk Champion and even took fourth place in the IHSA’s 3-point shoot-out contest. As the school’s all time leading scorer, Williams said he never imagined that one day, after playing around the world professionally for the Harlem Globetrotters, he’d return to work at Lindblom as the Dean of Students.
“I had other offers to go hoop, but my mom got sick, so I wanted to be closer to her,” Williams explained. One day, while playing basketball at Foster Park in 2008, he said former professional basketball player, Arne Duncan, asked him a question.
“Arne was like, ‘What’s up with you going back and getting your masters?’”
“He had been encouraging me for awhile to pursue a career in education and I saw the impact him and other men I respected were having on our youth,” Williams said. “Their energy motivated me.”
That, said Williams, was what put him on a drastically different career path. Thanks to a full ride basketball scholarship from Loyola University, he already had a Bachelor’s in Education, but that extra push encouraged him to pursue his Master’s in School Counseling and Education from Lewis University. He soon began searching for jobs and that’s when the dean position caught his attention, Williams said.
“You know how you see something, but you don’t think you’ll get it, but you apply anyway? That’s what happened here.”
His former principal, Alan Mather, was still working at the school and Williams credits him for being an influential guide during the process.
“Coming back to Lindblom though, was like a dream,” Williams said. “I’d always wanted to return to my hood, my school.”
Williams, who retired his jersey in January at a special ceremony put on by school staff, said that he’s now “walking” in his purpose.
“I want to leave out of here in a wheelchair,” he said. “This is my calling.”
Growing up in Englewood, and proud of his block – 70th and South Hermitage – he said that he’s able to relate to many of the students who come his way, particularly those in his male mentoring program. He started Real Men Talk about nine years ago to reach young men who need positive male role models.
Each year the program works with about 40 students, grades seventh through 12th. Life skills and positive decision making tips are some of the topics openly discussed among the group. They also welcome guest speakers who talk about their careers and bring back alumni to share the college experience. A part of the program also incorporates service projects like distributing turkeys during Thanksgiving, collecting and donating toiletries for the homeless, and more.
“I brought this here because it was important for them to be able to have different resources and meet different people who could talk to them about life,” Williams said, adding that they also work closely with the Chicago Police Department’s 7th District.
Creating this space for students was important because Williams said he can relate. Although he had an absent father, his mother Karla was a young single parent who overcame obstacles and became a registered nurse, working in the profession for 24 years, five of those years as a CPS school nurse. Williams said she was a driving force in his life, pushing him to succeed in his own. He understands the unique role that a man can play in a young boy’s life, which is why he said he’s so passionate about his work today.
“There are only certain things a woman can do for a young man, until a certain age,” he said. “So for me growing up, there were different people who played a role in my life, like the local park supervisor, the deacon at church, and my grandfather.”
Sophomore, Kenyon Hunter, participates in Real Men Talk and said Williams is able to connect with him and his peers well.
“He’s very relatable because he has gone through what we are going through now and he’s showing us what to do, and what not to do,” said Hunter. “Dean Williams has a big impact on me and other students.”
Williams said his work is personal, therefore he hopes his legacy reflects the drive and love he has for his community and the students he mentors.
“I don’t forget about the days that it was tough for my family and I,” he said, “That’s why I give back to the youth and the community. I just want to be remembered as someone who laid the foundation of success, not only my own children but, other young men and young women too.”